Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals Refuses to Reconsider Widow’s Claim for Damages in a Tobacco-Related Wrongful Death Case

In July of this year, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals released an opinion in the case of Reider v. Phillip Morris USA, Inc., ruling that the plaintiff did not properly preserve her objection to the jury’s verdict, which awarded her no damages despite finding the tobacco company Phillip Morris was partially responsible for her husband’s death. The Court’s decision focused on the jurisdictional requirement of preservation of issues for an appeal, which the plaintiff had not properly done. If the plaintiff had properly objected after the verdict was given, or properly filed the appropriate post-trial motion, she may have been given a new trial and collected damages for the tobacco-related death of her husband. Although the plaintiff was defeated in this case, other tobacco users and their families may be able to collect damages against tobacco companies by filing a Florida wrongful death lawsuit in federal district court.

The Woman’s Claim Against the Tobacco Company and the Verdict that Followed

The plaintiff’s case against Phillip Morris accused the tobacco company of fraudulent concealment, conspiracy, negligence, and strict liability in contributing toward the 1995 death of her husband, who started smoking in 1968. The case stems from a 1996 class action lawsuit, Engle v. Liggett Group, in which all injured smokers in Florida who started smoking before 1996 were allowed to file suit against tobacco companies based on their lies about the dangers and addictiveness of smoking.

The Florida Supreme Court later decertified the class, which eviscerated the class action lawsuit but left an opening for individual victims to file personal injury, wrongful death, or product liability actions against the tobacco companies under the same legal theory, which is exactly what the plaintiff here did. After a four-day trial, the jury came back with a verdict that Phillip Morris was partially responsible for her husband’s death, but it determined that she was not entitled to any monetary damages. The woman appealed to the Eleventh Circuit.

The Appeal

On appeal, the woman argued that the jury’s verdict — which found the defendant liable but awarded no damages — was the result of an “illegal jury compromise” and in violation of the Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects the right in civil cases to a trial by jury. Without addressing the substance of the woman’s arguments, the Court dismissed her appeal, based on the fact that she did not properly bring up her objections to the verdict as an illegal jury compromise before the trial court, or in a motion for a new trial.

The procedure for successfully appealing a judgment or verdict in both Florida state and federal courts can be extremely complicated, even for experienced attorneys. Since the plaintiff in this case did not follow the proper procedures immediately after the verdict was handed down, the tobacco company will not have to worry about paying her any damages for the death of her husband, for which the company was found legally responsible.

Tobacco Lawsuits in Florida Still Can and Do Succeed

If you have lost a loved one or suffered an injury as a result of tobacco use that occurred in 1996 or earlier, you may have a cause of action against a tobacco company. It has been found that tobacco companies fraudulently misrepresented the dangers of smoking, as well as the addictiveness of tobacco, and as a result many people have died from their products. Although the companies have been forced to stop the misleading advertising and correct the false perceptions that many smokers have held regarding tobacco, much of the damage may have already been done. An experienced Florida wrongful death attorney or products liability attorney can help you see if you or a loved one has a case that could result in an award of damages. The Florida attorneys at the Dean Law Firm want to assist you with your claim. At the Dean Law Firm, we represent clients in most personal injury, wrongful death, and products liability cases. Call us today at (352) 387-8700 or schedule a consultation through the website today.

More Blog Posts:

Pick-Up Truck Crashes into Cape Coral Pool Hall, Killing One and Injuring Three Others, Ocala Injury Lawyers Blog, published August 3, 2015.

Florida Hit-and-Run Driver Sentenced to 20 Years in Jail, Ocala Injury Lawyers Blog, published July 14, 2015.

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